Local News

State Gets Approval For First Stage Of Smallpox Vaccination Plan

Posted January 17, 2003 12:35 p.m. EST

— North Carolina has received permission from the federal government to immunize 7,500 key public health workers against smallpox, state health officials said Friday.

Officials of local health departments and about 60 hospitals will determine who receives the vaccines, said State Health Director Leah Devlin. Those who will be considered work in public health, hospitals and emergency response, Devlin said.

The ones chosen will be those most likely to come into contact with the smallpox virus if there's a suspected or confirmed case.

"Smallpox is one of the deadliest potential agents of bioterrorism," Devlin said. "We have a deadly disease. We have a vaccination."

Immunization will begin by the end of the month and continue through March, said Devlin, who said she is among those who will receive the vaccine. The state will send out teams to give the vaccines, she said.

Mandatory vaccinations for U.S. military personnel, expected to total about half a million, began last month.

The vaccine is administered with a small needle that pricks the skin, usually in a circular pattern on the shoulder. The immunization usually leaves a small scar.

The state has asked for 280,000 doses of the vaccine for the second stage of vaccination plan, but has not received word from the federal government about how many doses it will receive, Devlin said.

During that stage, which is expected to begin within a few months, law enforcement officials, firefighters, emergency medical responders and others will be given the vaccine.

Participation in the program is voluntary.

Carolinas HealthCare System and Presbyterian Healthcare, hospital systems in Charlotte, have said they won't vaccinate their employees.

They are among a small but growing number of U.S. hospitals concluding that health risks and financial problems posed by giving the vaccine outweigh the threat of smallpox.

Two large unions representing a total of 1.1 million medical workers have also argued that there are not enough safeguards in place to make sure people at higher risk of injury are not vaccinated. They complained there is nothing in place to adequately compensate people who are hurt by the vaccine.